We had a very nice weekend at Roundrock (actually, arrival late in the morning on Saturday, an overnight in the cabin, and then a late morning departure on Sunday). The forecasted temperature was to be in the 70s (in February! in Missouri!), with an overnight low in the upper 40s, so we pretty much had to go. The dogs also approved the idea.
While there, and amidst having done many other things, we received a visit from Good Neighbor Brian, who hadn’t been down to his adjoining property much in the last two years. But he said he was going to be down there a bit more in the coming weeks because he needed to clean it up . . . in order to sell it. Brian has been our neighbor for nearly as long as we have been stomping around our land. Because of some significant changes in his personal life, he no longer had the same dreams for his property that he’d originally had. He’d found several other rural places, which already had homes on them, that were more suited to his new life, and he wanted to take the next step.
We’d had a couple of cookouts at his place, and we did some general visiting and such, but there was only one time that Libby and I had ventured onto his property to wander his woods (with his open and ongoing permission). We were in search of something I had seen listed on a map of the greater property that Roundrock is carved from.
Aside from some broken-down fences wending through the forest and a corral (plus a few feeding stations that have long since burned down) there really is no evidence of the days when this property was a huge cattle ranch. (Okay, I have found some cow bones in my woods.) And beyond that, I’ve never found any sign of what prior inhabitants had once used the land for. Yet on that map was a tantalizing reference to a cistern on Good Neighbor Brian’s property. That implied a homestead or at least some structure that would need to have a reliable supply of water. Brian’s land is all on the ridgetop, so standing and flowing water would not have been found in the old days. (He now has a pond that comes and goes with the weather.)
And the cistern was what we were seeking that one time we wandered his woods, though we never did find it. Yet with Brian’s news that he was selling the land, we wanted to make a second push to see it, should the opportunity never come to us again.
And so on Sunday morning, after our bracing breakfast of oatmeal and fruit (and hot tea, unsweetened, of course), we took ourselves over there and ventured in what I hoped was the right direction based on a map I had looked at probably more than a decade before. Brian had made the goal a little more attainable by raising orange hazard fencing around the cistern. I figured it would be easy to spot given that the leaves were all gone in the forest.
He has a beautiful bit of forest with many mature trees and just enuf undulation to the land to make it interesting. Bisecting his forest, from the south to the north, is an old barbed wire fence, and when we met up with that, we first thought that we had reach his farther property line. It guided our exploration for a while, but it didn’t feel right, and it certainly wasn’t something we had encountered on our earlier ramble maybe a decade before. So we found a break in the fence and continued our quest. As I remembered from the map, the cistern would have been about in the center of his property (60 or so acres). Based on my purely intuitional reckoning, we still had some hoofing to do to get to that point. Fortunately, Brian had made it a little easier for us. He had cut a rough track through his woods that he presumably used with his ATV (though his small truck could fit as well). My guess was that this track lead somewhere and why not to or at least near that cistern? So we followed that, which Queequeg appreciated since the little guy sometimes has trouble finding his way through the low scrub.
I was looking for the orange hazard fencing; a cistern is otherwise a hole in the ground and thus not evident on a visual scan of the forest ahead. We hiked and doubted ourselves, not even certain that we were truly on Brian’s property given that fence we’d encountered. But it felt right, so we ventured on. And then I did see the orange fencing through the trees. That track we were on did lead in the right direction.
I didn’t know what to expect. The only cisterns I knew were concrete cubes buried beside farmhouses. Whatever this was probably predated modern concrete. We approached the fence cautiously, fearful that the ground might give way or that one of the dogs might be too curious and fall in.
What you see above is what we saw below our feet. Intriguing. Interesting. It looked to be about 10 feet deep. There were some puddles in the bottom (hence the reflected blue sky), but it was otherwise dry. Two large branches had fallen in, which I suppose were handy for any critters that might have fallen in. And look at those stones that make up the wall! Laid down by some hand long since gone from this earth. To some important purpose now also gone. The only evidence remaining of past lives lived and ended. An eloquent remnant that simultaneously keeps its secrets. I looked around the area, trying to see some feature on the forest floor that might suggest an old structure, but I saw nothing. The cistern was all there was to be seen.
Good Neighbor Brian had visited us a second time that weekend (before we had hiked his land) to tell us that we would not be having new neighbors. He’d spoken earlier of someone “crunching the numbers” to see if he could afford the property and that he would meet with Brian that day. The meeting had taken place, and Brian had come by to give us an update.
No, we would not have new neighbors, but only because the man who did buy his property that day was one of our existing neighbors. Good Neighbor Craig (who owns 40 acres south of us) had crunched the numbers and met Brian’s price. So assuming the bank agrees, Good Neighbor Craig will be the landowner south and west of us. (It happens that Craig is the son-in-law of Good Neighbor Tom who’s place is about a mile and a half from ours — I know this because I’ve run it — and who is pretty much the mover and shaker of our little rural community as well as a nice guy.) Craig’s intent is to run cattle on the property, and he’s been preparing the land he already owns to do that. Now he’ll have much more for the effort.
I hope that he’ll simply fence off the cistern on not actually fill it. I realize he has to protect his future cattle from its peril, and the land will be his to do with as he wishes (that’s why all of us have property down there), so this will be something to watch for.